Do you ever wonder if your relationship with your mother (or maternal impactor) is “normal”? Are you curious about how it has affected you as an adult?
Mother-daughter relationships can be complicated and in this episode, I’m breaking down the 7 types of dynamics I’ve seen the most in my 25 years as a psychotherapist, plus the lasting impact each type has on emotions and behaviors in adulthood.
In my private practice, in my courses, and in my community, I’ve seen so many women struggling in their relationships with their mothers. There can be a lot of shame, guilt, and longing associated with dissatisfaction or a disconnect in this primal relationship. Which is one of the reasons why it is important to process and understand your experience, and to honor your feelings, no matter what they might be.
I want to be clear that you do not have to have been raised by your biological mother to have a complicated relationship with mothering or motherhood. I use the term “maternal impactor” to describe the individual who raised you.
There are many types of relationships you can have with a maternal impactor, and while I can’t cover them all here, I’ve chosen some of the most common dynamics. It is my hope this will help you get more clarity around the truth of your experience.
1. Role Reversal
If you assumed the role of mother for your maternal impactor at a young age, this might be your primary dynamic. Being parentified as a child is an extremely painful experience. It can create fear of abandonment and deep wounds which manifest in adulthood as constantly seeking safety in relationships and a desire to control the outcomes and feeling states of others. Codependency can be fueled by a role reversal mother-daughter dynamic.
You might identify with being very dialed into people around you, being empathic, and understanding what others need sometimes before they even know themselves. With healing and healthy boundaries, these can be your superpowers.
Daughters who are parentified can find it very challenging to take care of themselves in a real way and may struggle to have self-compassion and build real self-love.
2. Hot and Cold
Was your maternal impactor someone who did not have a lot of emotional self-regulation? This could look like erratic behavior and excessive emotions that affected their ability to be consistent in their mothering. Anger, anxiety, depression…growing up you might have had the experience of never knowing what you were going to get.
The unpredictability of this mother type creates a chaotic home sphere, which is stressful for the child. You might have learned how to avoid being in the line of fire, had to overfunction, or become hypervigilant to anticipate mood swings.
In your childhood, it was adaptive to be very tuned into what your maternal impactor was feeling and doing because it kept you safe. In adulthood, this can manifest in positive traits like great people skills, empathy, and intuition. You might be an amazing emotional supporter for others.
That said, you can have difficulty managing your own emotions because you didn’t have a good role model. So you might be overwhelmed by anger, anxiety, and/or depression because no one taught you how to regulate your emotions in a healthy way.
3. The Self-Focused or Self-Obsessed Mother
In a self-focused mothering dynamic, the mother doesn’t see her children as separate from herself, rather they are an extension of her. The family organizes around the self-obsessed parent, rather than around the children.
As the child of a self-absorbed mother (or either parent for that matter), you learn it is not your place to shine. Instead, your job is to lift the parent up, tell them how amazing they are, and make sure nothing you do makes them feel threatened.
Daughters who grow up with a self-obsessed maternal impactor often end up being incredibly loyal supporters of others as they are very insightful and intuitive in all different types of relational situations. You might be a great problem solver and your friends might often seek you out for advice.
While you likely feel comfortable weighing in on other people’s situations, when it comes to your own life and relationships, you might not trust yourself or your feelings, if growing up, you were taught to minimize your own opinions and emotions. This can lead to feeling insecure about your ability to make decisions for yourself.
4. Mother as Bestie
Did your mom see herself as your best friend? Would she try to treat you as an equal, want to hang out with your friends, or have inappropriate conversations with you for your age? This kind of mother/daughter dynamic can create disordered boundaries that carry on into adulthood.
It can be difficult to individuate in a healthy way from your maternal impactor if the boundaries of motherhood and friendship were (or still are) blurred. There can be a fear of rejection in other relationships and you might feel unlovable because there is a certain amount of emotional neglect that comes from a mother relating to her child-like a friend instead of like a mother.
If you grew up with a maternal impactor who wanted to be your friend instead of mother you, you might have felt incredibly burdened or neglected because again, instead of life being specifically oriented around you, a mom who wants to be bestie orients the relationship around her need for inappropriate mutuality.
5. The Perfectionist
This maternal impactor type is controlling, fearful, anxious, hypercritical of themselves and of their children. Having a perfectionist mother can be painful because you end up feeling like you can never get it right. Nothing was ever good enough when you were growing up and you may still feel this way now.
Many daughters of perfectionist mothers grow up to be perfectionists themselves. I can tell you- if you’re living through a lens where 98% of what you do is amazing, but all you can focus on is the 2% that didn’t go exactly the way you wanted- that does not make for a joyful life.
When you grow up with a perfectionist dynamic, your worth and value are tied to what you do, how well you perform, and how many accomplishments you have.
On the positive side, you likely know how to get stuff done, and done well. You are reliable and responsible in relationships and at work. You know how to work hard, are persistent, and are tenacious. But, you likely are also out of balance, with a tendency to work yourself to the bone, overfunction, and overgive.
You might fear the judgment of others and thrive on external praise and validation. You might attract people who are extremely critical. I call this a repeating relationship reality, where you’re unconsciously hoping for a “do-over” with your maternal impactor.
6. The Good Enough Mother
A “good enough” mother knows she doesn’t have to be perfect, she just has to be good enough for kids to thrive and be resilient. This kind of maternal impactor is clearly the parent and doesn’t need anything from her kids than the connection she has with them. Her children are free to just be themselves.
She isn’t perfect, but she knows how to emotionally self-regulate. A good enough mother’s life is balanced and she feels satisfaction in other areas of her life, not just in mothering. She doesn’t need to look to her kids to fulfill her needs.
If you grew up with this mother type, you had space to grow, to change, to be your own person, to explore, and make mistakes. You had an inner sense of safety and security because of your secure attachment to your maternal impactor. If you fail, it’s not the end of the world. You know you are inherently worthy.
7. The Rejecting or Unavailable Mother
This looks like a maternal impactor who could not meet your physical and/or emotional needs as a child. You might have grown up feeling unloved or rejected. If you had a caregiver who was not emotionally attuned to you it can cause inconsistencies in your relationship with yourself.
Attachment in early childhood sets the stage for how we relate to ourselves later in life. If there was an insecure or non-existent attachment with your maternal impactor, this can create a mother wound.
You might have always felt there was something off in your relationship with your mother and wondered if this was the way it was supposed to be. Daughters of rejecting or unavailable mothers can feel judged, criticized, neglected, humiliated, and full of shame.
If you do have a mother wound it can show up in your life as low self-esteem, the inability to self-soothe, chronic overfunctioning, people-pleasing, the inability to trust yourself, and disordered boundaries.
Mother wounds come in all shapes and sizes and if this resonates with you, there is inner healing work you can do to honor your childhood experiences and mitigate the repercussions in your adult relationships.
Inside this week’s guide, I’m giving you some ideas for steps you can take to self-mother because it can be incredibly healing. No matter what kind of relationship you had with your mother or maternal impactor, you can learn how to self-parent now.
If you are ready to go deeper, I invite you to take a look at my Understanding + Healing the Mother Wound course. This Mother’s Day, why not give yourself the gift of healing?
I hope this adds value to your life and if you know anyone who would benefit from this, please, share it with them. Have an amazing week, and as always, take care of you.